Thursday, 24 April 2014

Gundam Converge : Operation Revive (Premium Edition)

Alright, this review will probably be a bit heavy because there are so many figures with extended back histories involved here. Today we are looking at the Gundam Converge Operation Revive figure set, and specifically we are looking at the Premium Edition. That's right, if you are only going to read one sentence in this review, please make it this one:

If you are considering purchasing a copy of Operation Revive, be sure to check if the box is the Premium Edition or not.

The standard edition box of Operation Revive looks pretty much the same as the Premium Edition, with the only difference being "Premium Edition" printed just after "Operation Revive". Be extra careful if you are purchasing online, some sellers might not even be aware there are two different editions and may have used a stock photo or so.

So what is the big fuss about this Premium Edition? Well, let's just take the rest of the review from the beginning. Sometime in June 2013 Bandai announced on their Shokugan website that they were launching the "Operation Revive" event. Users registered on the Bandai website were encouraged to vote for past figures that they would like to see reissued again. Below is the initial banner used on the Bandai website at the time:

Voting was done in three rounds over a couple of months. During the first round users could vote for the entire single figure line, I can't remember exactly up until which volume, nine or ten I guess. After the first voting round, the votes where counted and the bottom half were axed from the selection, then began round two with the remaining mobile suits. After three rounds Bandai had ended up with a winning set and in September the five mobile suits with most votes where revealed as the new special set "Operation Revive". Together whith these, an enitrely new sculpt was introduced, the Hi-Nu Gundam (a nasty trick to make sure that ambitious collectors would need to get the set of course...).

When Operation Revive was first presented, there was some talk about whether the new reissues of the chosen figures would be exact resemblances of the original figures or if there would be some way to tell then apart. If you look at other Converge special packs (the Operation Jaburo being the best example) relaunched figures tended to have a slightly different colour tone for example. In the case of Operation Revive though, Bandai did not alter the look of the figures from the originals, but instead opted to give them alternative equipment. And here is where the major issue with Operation Revive creeps in, and which I will highlight again.

This is what the Premium Edition is really all about.
Gundam Converge Operation Revive is released in two versions. If you get the standard edition, you will receive a package with the new Hi-Nu Gundam and five reissues of previous figures. If, however, you buy the more pricey Premium Edition, you get the exact same things as in the standard package, but you also get a separate plastic bag with the new optional weapons for the mobile suits. The alternative equipment is not included in the standard package.

I find this a most questionable way of marketing what was supposed to be a true highlight for collectors. Was there really a need for two editions? The potential anger or frustration that this confusion will cause with some customers must be weighed against the greed of clever marketing ploys. I don't want to moan about it too much, but I have seen the messages of disappointed people who ended up with the standard package and wondering why no new weapons were included. To add a little bit of extra frustration, the standard edition first started appearing in February 2014, while the Premuim set followed a bit later in March 2014.

The full contents of the Operation Revive Premium Edition box.
Alright, that was a lot of details about the back story and the two versions, but it is rather significant for this particular set. Anyway, we're here to take a closer look at the six figures, and this we will.

Apart from the Hi-Nu Gundam, these were the five mobile suits voted most popular in the Operation Revive vote:

#1. The RX-93 Nu Gundam (originally appeared as figure 13+14 in Converge volume 3, June 2011)
#2. The MSN-00100 Hyaku-Shiki (originally figure 06 from Converge volume 1, November 2010)
#3. The GN-001 Gundam Exia (originally figure 04, also from Converge volume 1, November 2010)
#4. The RX-0 Unicorn Gundam (originally figure 07, from Converge volume 2, January 2011)
#5. The RGM-89D Jegan D-Type (originally figure 09, from Converge volume 2, January 2011)

The selection surprised me a bit. I was especially baffled that the notoriously difficult and ever popular Char's Zaku II did not make it to this list. Then of course I was a bit disappointed to see some of the figures missing from my own collection not getting elected (such as the GM and the Marasai) but that is a completely different story...

Right, the image above shows you the minor assembly required to piece together the six figures. Apart from the Hi-Nu Gundam (top left corner) the other five figures are shown with the bonus items from the Premium Edition placed a little bit to the left side of each figure. These are of course the optional weapon equips. Now, let's take a closer look at each figure.

First out is the band new figure, the RX-93-v2 Hi-Nu Gundam. As the pictures clearly tell you, this is a striking little fellow and a true delight in your Convegre collection. It feels so wrong to stick the figure exclusively in this package but if you are not interested in the reissued figures you may want to look out for a standard edition of this package to try and grab this fellow a little bit cheaper. As usualy there is not much in the way of articulation, a little bit of side to side for the head, and arms rotating at the shoulder. As you can also guess, the figure's large booster tanks give him more than enough stability.

And here is the most popular guy in the vote, the RX-93 Nu Gundam. It is not hard to see what people like in this striking figure. An excellent colour scheme and some nice .touches such as the painted beam rifle for example. The picture above shows the figure with its Premium Edition extra equipment attached, namely the right shoulder binder weapon set.

The RX-93 Gundam in Converge History, from left to right: 1) The dual binder equipped RX-93 from Revive Premium Edition. 2) The bazooka wielding RX-93 number 14 from Converge volume 2. This is followed by 3) the standard beam rifle edition as presented as figure 13, also in Converge volume 2. The last figure is the RX-93 in a blue tone as it appeared in the SP01 package where it duels the Sazabi.
As you can see in the comparison shot above, there have been a couple of versions of this figure released already. The version from the SP01 used to be the most complete though now you get to re-evaluate that point. It would have been a nice touch if Bandai had gone the extra mile on revive and given the RX-93 all the previous components, i.e. the bazooka and the shield as well.

The runner up on Bandai's list was the MSN-00100 Hyaku-Shiki. A striking design both in detail and colour. The Premium Edition adds a Clay Bazooka weapon which replaces the figure's beam rifle, a weapon that looks great from the side but conspiciously thin, almost 2D, when viewed from above. When displayed at a proper angle though, the figure looks great.

The Hyaku-Shiki as it has appeared in Gundam Converge, from left to right. First is the original edition with a beam rifle, from Converge volume 1 (though here it is my Revive figure with its "standard" weapon on display, since I do not own the first edition). Second is the Operation Revive Premium Edition figure with the Clay Bazooka, and the last version, which also has a somewhat warmer golden colour is the Hyaku-Shiki from the SP04 set, armed with a "Hyper-Mega Launcher" which it uses to duel a white Qubeley.
Above you can see available versions of the Hyaku-Shiki. As I don't have the original edition figure, I used the alternate equipment of the Revive figure to illustrate what it looks like.

EDIT (2016-12): So, I finally got my hands on the first edition Hyaku-Shiki. The basic appearance of the two editions is similar, although the blue colour seems to be slightly darker and more navy on the Revive edition.

It is also interesting to note that the original Hyaku-Shiki figure bag is rather different. The torso and legs are slotted into different compartments in the original figure, which comes apart at the waist. The Revive edition appears to have a refined mold where these components are now a single part (at least I haven't been able to separate torso and legs by some gentle pulling and I don't want to try and force it).

The third figure on the vote was the GN-001 Gundam Exia  from Converge volume 1. This is a very detailed figure with many nice colours, and I am not surprised to see it featured on this set. In the pictures above it is armed with the two Premium Edition blades ("GN Long Blade and GN Short Blade") rather than the shield and sword of the standard edition, though these are of course included in this box as well. Thanks to the roating shoulders and wrists the Exia offers a little more customization abilities in its posing than the average Converge figure, which is a nice touch. You can also choose to equip one of the blades and go with the GN Shield or the GN Sword on the other arm if you prefer.

Comparison of the various Exias as so far made available in Converge. from left to right are the original figure from Converge Volume 01, followed by the figure from the Revive Premium Edition (here equipping the alternate blade weapons) and lastly comes the limited edition overseas only figure which was sold in a dual pack together with the SVMS-01X Union Flag Custom II. The limited edition figure has been given a glossy metallic coating but is otherwise similar to the original edition.
The Exia has so far been featured in Converge in three different variations, as displayed in the figure above.

Voted fourth most popular was the RX-0 Unicorn, in the Unicorn Mode. Bandai never seems to tire of milking this guy, which has been made available in so many versions. if you add the Destroy Mode to the count you can double the amount of available versions of this little guy. Anyway, the figure as such is rather unremarkable I think. The sculpt is really nice though, I just don't get very many kicks out of an all white figure. The Revive version comes armed with a single Gatling beam rifle which replaces the standard beam rifle of the original version. The best thing about this weapon is that it can help the nose heavy figure from toppling over, which all the previous versions have been very good at doing, thanks to the forward leaning posture.

Who said Unicorns are rare? From left to right we see the RX-0 from the Revive Premium Edition armed with its gatling beam rifle. The second figure is the original release from Gundam Converge volume 2, armed with a regular beam rifle. The third figure is actually the "secret version" from the same set, as some of the packages of Cinverge volume 2 contained the bazooka armament instead of the beam rifle. The fourth and last figure is coated in pearl white, and was made available in a special "overseas only" triple-pack bundled with the MSN-001A1 Delta Plus and the RGM-96X Jesta.
Anyway, in the image above you can see the up until now available versions of the Unicorn (in its Unicorn Mode that is). The pearl white version is supposedly available in two different packages; the one I do not have being bundled with an issue of the Dengeki Hobby Magazine. As far as I understand it though, that version is similar to the pearl white version from the triple-limited pack.

The fifth and last mobile suit to come out of the vote was refreshingly not a Gundam, but the regular RGM-89D Jegan (D-Type). This is not a small feat considering it went up against several formidable Gundams such as e.g. the Z Gundam and the RX-78. Job well done, and the Premium Edition figure with its alternative bazooka armament is a really great army builder add-on. It looks exceptionally well next to the regular figure armed with a beam rifle. The figure itself is pretty detailed too, and well worthy of being brought back to life.

Apart from the Revive reissue there was only the original release in Converge volume 2, you can see the two of them compared to each other in the above image.

So, summing things up, is the Operation Revive package good value? Well, it really depends on where you are coming from. Latecomers and beginners stand a lot to gain from this package, even the standard edition will be a great start considering how most of the original figures contained in this set now sell for more than the entire Revive Package, as in one original figure is more expensive than the entire Operation Revive set.

Converge Veterans, on the other hand, will not necessarily be all that amused. Any serious collector would want the Hi-Nu Gundam in their collection, and the premium weapons are really nice optionals too. However, it is getting a bit ridiculous with all these alternative versions of the same figure appearing over and over again. I personally suffer from Unicorn overload (and that's even before I have had to face the two newly released Destroy mode variations...).

Although I have seen the occasional seller breaking this set up online, chances are you'll be hard-pressed to score a hit on loose items, still having to settle for the full box if you wish to get the Hi-Nu Gundam only. As far as I am concerned, the Revive set should have been released as separate pieces, so that buyers could fill the gaps in their collections without ending up with duplicate figures they might not be interested in. Then of course there was the debacle with the two versions of the box...

Based on its contents alone though, the Premium Edition box (especially) is great, but when you consider the state of your own collection it might feel less fantastic or necessary to purchase.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Assault Kingdom vol. 4

It has to be said from the start: Assault Kingdom volume 4 is a really, really, really excellent set. As much as I think the entire AK line up has been pretty great so far, though perhaps with a heavy focus on (not surprisingly) the Gundams themselves. AK4 takes a big step towards correcting this by adding some really great looking Zeon figures which desperately help to balance your collection for the better. The overall leanings toward the colour blue in its variations is an interesting touch, I wonder if it was accidential or a calculated move by Bandai. In either way, it is a peculiar little twist on things. To me, AK4 will always be known as "the blue set".

Anyway, having the honour of being the fourth wave of regular figures AK4 was released in January 2014 following hot on the heels of AK3 which was released only two months earlier. As you can see from the above image the set is very varied in terms of mobile suit appearance, and it is made up of only high profile figures. too. Let's take a closer look at what this set has to offer.

13 : Perhaps this presentation is a bit superfluous,as AK4 opens with a real heavy hitter, the RX-93 Nu Gundam. Now this mobile suit has been around, it is one of those that have managed to make an appearance in all the figure lines covered by this blog, and has even put up multiple appearances in Converge and STANDart. Basically it is a rather generic looking Gundam though in a scaled back black and white colour scheme. The Nu Gundam's standout feature is the large fin funnel weapon system attached to its left shoulder.

Apart from this detachable equipment you also get optional equipment in the form of a beam rifle, a bazooka and a removable shield. As per Assault Kingdom standard, both hands are offered either as open or as fists. The shoulder mounted binder system is also available in two slightly different configurations, fully loaded as well as where some of the devices have been launched. The three missing binders themselves are found spread out in the boxes of figures 14-16 to give you an (although completely unnecessary in this case) incentive to buy the full set. As usual with figures with bulky back packs, wings and similar, the Nu Gundam has to be balanced carefully so as not to topple, unless you use any of the stands that are found in all AK boxes.

14 : We're still waiting for the RGZ-91 Re-GZ mobile suit to make an appearance in STANDart, the AK4 version can give you an indication of the massive potential this figure has. At least the figure is due any day now in Converge volume 14 where it will also be very appreciated. As you can see from the images above, this well designed figure has a smooth and sleek appearance and a great colour scheme.

The Assault Kingdom version of the Re-GZ comes equipped with a puny beam rifle, a shield and a transparent beam saber. A choice of hands is also included. This gives you enough options to tweak the figure to your heart's content, although I think the beam sabre configurations are the way to go here. Notice also the first of the three binder weapons belonging to the Nu Gundam in this parts set above. Another truly great figure that livens up the AK figure line.

15 : And now for the real stunner of this set, the incredibly awesome MS-07B-3 Gouf Custom of Zeon notoriety. This figure has also seen widespread release in Converge, STANDart and FWUO, although it is somewhat hard to track down there. Anyway, the Gouf is here now, and it might just be the best figure to come out of the entire Assault Kingdom line, perhaps outshined only by the widely customizable Black Tristar Zaku II. The Gouf Custom simply delivers in spades.

The mobile suit comes armed with two weapons, the combined gatling shield and a heat sword for those nice close encounters. Whichever way you decide to pose it it will do so nicely. In spite of the large gatling shield the figure stands up fairly well without support. Once again the box comes with one of the binders for the Nu Gundam. If you are a picky collector, this is probably one of the AK:s you'd be interested in.

16 : The last figure in wave four is another truly classic figure, which has probably featured in almost every figure line by now. The amphibian MSM-07 Z'Gok has finally found its way to Assault Kingdom (I suppose Char's red version is not far behind...) and although this is a really great figure it does have some minor niggles. I guess the main reason we've had to wait for the Z'Gok is that the engineers would have to think a bit harder on how to articulate it. It is surely no coincidence that we have seen so many sleek Gundams appear in the line, they are all similar in composition with minor artistic deviations only, and the thin and square limbs are fairly straightforward to articulate. It is also not surprising to see the many versions of the Zaku II and Gouf coming out, as the designers take advantage of a previous figure and tweak it somewhat.

Now the Z'Gok is a whole different fish altogether. With its bulky limbs the articulation has to work somewhat differently, and as a resault the options for the Z'Gok are a bit limited when compared to the more flexible figures (the RX-78-2 Gundam for example). You'll find that the legs especially aren't very tweakable, and the strange wide legged stance can only be used so much. Another thing which needs correction is the appearance of the head. The Z'Gok has a 360 degree field of vision but the AK figure only has two slots looking like eyes. The mould is still there for the other "viewports", you'd really want to paint these black to give the figure a smoother and more rounded appearance more true to the real deal. A nice touch though is that you can move the red monoeye inside the head to look left and right by using a small lever at the back of the head. I'd use it sparingly, there's no telling how fragile it is. The figure also comes with a choice of open or closed claws, as well as the third and last binder for the Nu Gundam.

Above you can see all the components needed to put together the three binders that are released by the Nu Gundam. The first box contains the piece you plug into the lower back of the Gundam and then attach the three binders on transparent arms extending from it, similar to the way the Kshatriya figure was designed.I didn't bother trying this out yet as I'm not really convinced by this whole idea of transparent pieces sticking out from figures to simulate in weapon systems flight. if I do try it out, the review will be updated accordingly.

In conclusion though, there is much to rejoice about in regard to Assault Kingdom vol. 4. If you like to collect these figures I'd say the entire set is a given. At the time of writing they are still easily available on the market, so shouldn't prove too difficult to source at a decent price.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Gundam Converge 03 : RX-75 Guntank

Today we're going to take a look at one of the Converge grandaddies, released in the very first volume of Gundam Converge in November 2010. An ancient design also by cartoon standards, the spartan look and style of this machine screams of yesterday's future, which is part of its charm. It is worth pointing out that there are actually two versions of this model, as the Guntank was one of four models to be reissued in September 2011 as part of the "Gundam Selection" set which was aimed specifically at 7-11 (as far as I know this was a Japan only thing).

The two versions of the figure are identical save for the packaging which has some minor differences. The backside of the box displays the other figures in the set, so if the box displays the other figures of Converge volume one (i.e. figures 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6) it is the first issue, and if the box displays the 7-11 figures (i.e. figures 2, 11, 12, 19 and 20) then it is the reissue. The 7-11 reissue also came with a miniature booklet inside the package, displaying the models released in Converge up to that point.

Armed with this knowledge and looking at the picture above you can easily identify my figure as one of the 7-11 reissues. As you can also see there are a few pieces to snap together to complete the figure, I can imagine that these small parts could be easily lost so it is probably a good idea to store this figure with some extra care.

As for the RX-75 Guntank figure itself, it has a very compact and stubby look, but overall comes through quite nicely. The figure has the typical for Converge articulated shoulders, but head and torso are firmly pointed forward, since the pegs connecting the parts are not round.

The Guntank was reissued a second time again in December 2012, as a piece in the Operation Jaburo set. The Jaburo version has darker blue colour and a more metal looking grey.

In the images above you can clearly see the facelift given to the Guntank in the Jaburo set. On a side note, it can be mentioned that the Operation Jaburo box contained several facelifted figures and is a good alternative to trying to hunt down all the individually released figures in that box (see a more detailed look here). Below are some comparative shots of the relative size and look of the Converge Guntank when placed next to other Converge figures as well as the old Ultimate Operation RX-75 which of course has a style more faithful to the original design.

Relative size of the RX-75 Guntank compared to the G-P.A.R.T.S. G-Bull (Converge vol 11, June 2013) and the Real Type Gundam from the Operation Jaburo set (December 2012).

The disfigured Converge Guntank placed next to the more stylish FW Ultimate Operation version which appeared in the Ultimate Operation Best Selection set in December 2005.